Tuesday, April 11
Listen to me, O coastlands,
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord,
and my reward with my God.”
And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
the slave of rulers,
“Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Isaiah 49:1-7)
In the second Servant Song, the Servant of the Lord declares, “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me” (49:1). This sounds very like God’s words to the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer 1:5). A revelatory, prophetic role is also shown by the power of the Servant’s words: the Lord “made my mouth like a sharp sword” (Isa 49:2; in Rev 1:16; 2:16; 19:15, 21, the word of the risen Christ is expressed in this same way).
Yet, having made the Servant’s mouth “like a sharp sword,” the Lord hid him away “in the shadow of [God’s] hand” (49:2). Though the Lord had fashioned him “like a polished arrow,” the Servant found himself hidden in God’s quiver (49:2), so that the Servant cries, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity” (49:4). So too Jesus would cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46//Mk 15:34; cf. Ps 22:1). Not only is the Servant’s destiny hidden from the world, it is even hidden from the Servant himself!
The way of the Servant is hard—as it must be. How, otherwise, could the Servant truly stand with the abandoned, forgotten, God-forsaken ones? But God declares that the Servant will transform the world: “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (49:6). Although we cannot see to its end, the way of the Servant leads through sorrow into joy, through darkness into light, through death into life. May the words of abolitionist Theodore Parker, quoted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, speak for us as well: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice” (Theodore Parker, “Of Justice and the Conscience,” in The Collected Works of Theodore Parker 2, 37-57 [London: Trubner, 1879], 48).
Prayer: Help us, O God, to follow you faithfully, even though the end of our road is not visible to us. Help us to trust you, and to follow you obediently, knowing that you do see our way clear. Through Jesus our Christ who set his face toward Jerusalem, Amen.